Yes, marital rape victims deserve justice too

As a law graduate, I am heartened by the recommendations of the Penal Code Review Committee, in particular, over the criminalisation of marital rape (Husbands may no longer have marital immunity for rape; Sept 10).

The marital immunity has roots in a legislation drafted in 1871. It is an anachronism and is, thus, ripe for repeal.

However, I am surprised by the resistance displayed online by Singaporeans. In my view, there is overwhelming justification for abolishing the husband immunity.

At present, where there are no clear signs that the marriage has broken down, marital rape can only be tried as causing hurt or causing grievous hurt - in short, something other than rape. This is deeply unsatisfactory.

First, these offences generally attract lesser penalties than rape.

Second, victims may be denied closure when the system fails to properly recognise how they have been wronged.

Thus, the proposed reform ensures that victims are done justice by correctly labelling the crime. It also ensures that the punishment meted out is proportionate to the heinousness of rape.

In truth, lifting the husband immunity is no more than calling a spade a spade. Intercourse procured without consent is rape. The fact of marriage cannot alter the absence of consent.

It might be argued that the new law is susceptible to abuse by vindictive wives.

However, I believe there is sufficient deterrence for this. The fabrication of claims is an offence under the Penal Code.

Allegations of rape are also tested robustly at trial to eliminate frivolous claims. A conviction on the victim's word alone cannot be secured unless the court finds the testimony "unusually convincing".

Most importantly, the spectre of false accusations does not detract from the need to protect genuine victims of marital rape.

The criminal law's intervention in a marital relationship is not new.

A husband who abuses his wife is not automatically exempt from all conceivable offences.

In fact, the Penal Code as it stands does not preclude a husband from being charged with sexual assault if he violates his wife without the use of his penis. Surely our laws can afford to be more consistent.

Phoebe Leau (Miss)